Astral Lamp

Looking into the various critics of Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance (1852), one peculiar item stands out as related to the earlier post. The proto-generative concept of starlight seems to be a major sticking point: this particular observation by Craig White in his ‘A Utopia of “Spheres and Sympathies”: Science and Society in The Blithedale Romance and at Brook Farm’:

“Despite Coverdale’s regressive habits of speech, the new cosmos and its urban microcosm continue to impinge on consciousness: “an astral lamp was penetrating mistily through the white curtain of Zenobia’s drawing room” (161). Identified with the stars even while displacing them, the “astral lamp” indicates the new correspondance between “nature and human existence” (94)

What White seems to ‘zero in’ on is a peculiar talismanic quality of starlight at that particular time in American letters, when new stars were being discovered at a rapid rate. We are still at least a hundred years from Einstein’s theory of relativity, and yet the natural phenomena of starlight and its fixed position tends to reveal the sidereal concept of time that I averred helps displace the “whips and scorns of time” as Shakespeare would put it in Hamlet Ac III Sc i (see here). The focus and study of the stars gives us a sense of eternity in a way that removes us from the randomness inherent in daily life.

The quote, from a ‘not-easily-obtainable-or-out-of-print’ edition of The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne happens in Ch. 19: Zenobia’s Drawing Room. (See the available online version here. ) This quiet moment shows us the same sense of peace and purpose that exists in examining the stars. Of course, this ‘astral lamp’ was based on the ideal of divinity revealed in nature before she had been stripped of these virtues in the 19th century. For my part, I feel like I am searching for the starlight of a star that has long since burned out, but whose light may yet still be visible by candlelight!

The Blithedale Romance (Norton Critical Editions)
H.’s genesis of American utopian fiction

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